Magazine article The Futurist

Creativity in Turbulent Times: A Report from Robert Theobald's Workshops

Magazine article The Futurist

Creativity in Turbulent Times: A Report from Robert Theobald's Workshops

Article excerpt


A professor of philosophy offers a first-hand account of workshops developed by futurist Robert Theobald, author of The Rapids of Change. Here, Theobald also comments on the workshops and the emerging "compassionate era."

Robert Theobald is one futurist who has long been interested in moving beyond writing books to experimenting with ways to help people "empower" themselves for both personal growth and social action in the midst of our confusing, turbulent times.

Twenty years ago, he created the process that has become Action Linkage, an electronic and print networking system designed to facilitate contact among people who have seen the need for social, cultural, and -- more recently -- personal change. Theobald describes it as a modern version of the Committees of Correspondence that did so much to form the intellectual atmosphere and political networks that underlay the American Revolution.

In 1984, he was the chief organizer of a group committed to helping people understand that the new times in which we are living call for new rules. The group produced a document, At the Crossroads, that was priced low enough to encourage mass circulation: more than 100,000 copies in English, with French and Dutch translations as well.

Three years later came The Rapids of Change, available with a guide and set of tapes for use by study groups or in classrooms. This book marked a significant change in Theobald's thinking. In Crossroads, he had seen the present "industrial era" being transformed into a coming "communications era" based on information technologies; in Rapids, he sees the future in terms of a "compassionate era."

Theobald: "The very imagery of Crossroads is static and assumes that we have time to stop and think about which road to take. In this context, communication is enough. I have since come to realize that our times are far more turbulent, that we are rushing down a rapids, and that we need not only to help each other understand new truths, but to learn to care passionately about each other."

Helping People Empower Themselves

Over the past year and a half, Theobald has been developing a new approach to helping people empower themselves. In Tucson, Arizona, during January 1988, he held the first of a continuing series of participatory workshops on creativity and leadership in our era of turbulence. Most of the 40 attendees were already members of Action Linkage. Geographical variety seemed greater than professional: The largest single group was of therapists of various sorts; the rest included teachers, business people, a logger, a retired military officer now doing community organizing in southern Mississippi, and a widow who had become involved in social action. Some already knew each other from previous Action Linkage projects; some were already friends or collaborators of Theobald, such as his wife, Jeanne Scott.

We were bonded intellectually before meeting in Tucson. Theobald -- he quickly became "Bob" -- sent all of us preliminary drafts of his new writings -- the "Compassionate Era Documents," he called them -- and asked us to send him comments. We were also to indicate where each of us was in our thinking; the key question we wanted to work on during the workshop; what, if anything, was blocking our energy or creativity; and where we would like to be going in both our personal and professional lives. Bob then sent each of us copies of all these responses, inviting further dialogue.

Theobald: "In the Compassionate Era Documents, I argued that the way we have been thinking about reality during the past ten centuries is obsolete. Just as mapmakers have gradually given us more and more accurate projections of what the Earth `really' looks like--especially since the advent of space-based cartography -- so we need to find ways of understanding the truth in ways that will help us see it with honest realism. …

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